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Candidates grilled at forum
• District 5 Supervisor hopefuls explain views
Channce Condit Tom Hallinan and Mike Kline
The three candidates who want to be the next District 5 county supervisor faced off last week at a forum sponsored by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce. Left to right are Ceres resident Channce Condit, Tom Hallinan and Mike Kline. - photo by Jeff Benziger

The three Ceres men seeking to represent District 5 on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors faced a barrage of questions before about 30 voters last week.

The Ceres Chamber of Commerce held the candidates forum on Tuesday evening, Feb. 11 at the Ceres Community Center, attended by candidates Channce Condit, Tom Hallinan and Mike Kline.

Voters will be choosing their favorite in the March 3 primary to replace Supervisor Jim DeMartini who is retiring at the end of the year. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the two highest vote-getters will face off in the Nov. 3 general election.

Former state Senator Anthony Cannella of Ceres served as moderator and fielded questions posed by the audience and the Chamber. Cannella remarked on the rarity of the occasion given that the District 5 seat hasn’t been challenged since DeMartini won 16 years ago.

Condit was elected to the Ceres City Council after running unopposed in the November 2018 election and has served 14 months of a four-year term.

Kline is also a member of the Ceres City Council and will complete his second term at the end of this year.

Hallinan is employed with a law firm that serves the city of Ceres and has pledged to step down if elected.

The first question posed was about ideas to bring jobs to Stanislaus County. Condit mentioned his employment with Opportunity Stanislaus in economic development. He said he will meet with business leaders to give them business incentives to come here. Condit added that the Bay Area cannot compete with Valley real estate and utility costs.

“It’s up to us to go out and make them aware of that,” said Condit.

Hallinan said he’s helped bring Amazon and Grainger jobs to the county.

“The way you do that is you have to make them feel comfortable,” said Hallinan.

Kline wants to see the infrastructure in place to bring warehouse and manufacturing jobs to the Crowslanding Naval Base. He mentioned the need to be shovel-ready for development of the North County and South County corridors “so they don’t have to wait for the infrastructure in place to build.”

Candidates were asked about actions that haven’t been taken to reduce homelessness in Stanislaus County. Cannella noted how Ceres rejected participation in the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) program and thinks each city should support a countywide approach.

Tom Hallinan
Tom Hallinan

Hallinan said mental health and addiction issues play into the problem of people living on the streets. He said he favors extending temporary help with housing and job skills to those “fallen off the economic edge.” Hallinan said the county has to deal with the crimes and nuisances coming from the homeless community.

He said he likes Patterson’s holistic approach.

Kline said help needs to be extended to those who want help by offering temporary housing and job skills in order to next focus on those with substance abuse and mental health problems. He said a “patch on everything” has led to nothing accomplished.

“Stanislaus County has spent $35 million on homeless and yet you still see the homeless population out there,” said Kline.

Condit said Ceres rejected HEAP because of fears of the Modesto mayor’s threat of converting the former Memorial Hospital Ceres site into a homeless shelter or placing a shelter in a county island.

“I believe we need to have a regional approach … where all nine cities can buy in equally and have equal skin in the game when it comes to addressing this homeless crisis,” said Condit. He said the county needs to quit relying on state funding and earmark county cannabis revenues to address “this homelessness crisis” and to offer job and life skill training.

The third question centered on combating illegal dumping and the blight it causes.

Mike Kline
Mike Kline

Kline said the county needs to follow Ceres’ example of putting up surveillance cameras in trouble spots and do undercover surveillance.

“We have to get this under control,” said Kline.

Condit said the county needs to “increase civic engagement” and “educate the public” that it’s illegal to dump debris. He called for more surveillance and getting citizens involved.

“We also need to hit them where it counts – in the pocketbook,” said Condit, who also suggested a countywide beautification committee.

Hallinan said his opponents ideas were good but wants to go farther.

“There’s one more thing we need to do,” said Hallinan, “and that’s something I tried to do before. We went to the district attorney and said please give us as city attorneys the ability to prosecute some of these crimes that you don’t seem to care about. She said, ‘no, I’m not going to do that. In fact you just need to give us more money so we can take of it.’” He added that as a supervisor he would lobby for cities to take care of the problem since they seem more motivated to remedy the problem.

The next question asked the three how they felt about changing the formula for the sharing of property tax between the cities and the county. While property taxes are one of the main sources of revenue for cities, the county keeps about 13 percent of property taxes while cities get six percent. The candidates were asked about their feelings on a more balanced split despite almost assured resistance at the county level. All three are agreeable to the idea. Condit said he favors local control to make cities stronger. Hallinan said stronger cities will benefit the county and raise property values. Kline also wants to see more equity to help cities cover basic services like police and fire protection.

On the question of how they would promote and support public safety, Hallinan said economic development and expanded the jobs base is essential to funding public safety and addressing homelessness.

“This is an ag based district so we have to make sure that the rural crime funding is kept at pace or upgraded,” said Hallinan, who added he has been endorsed by Sheriff Jeff Dirkse and the patrol deputies association. He said when he was on the Yosemite Community College District Board for 20 years he voted to make cuts during the recession despite cries against them. Hallinan added he would make cuts to spare public safety.

Kline said that a good tax base is key to strong funding for public safety.

“Once you get the economic tax base you can expand on wages, benefits,” said Kline. “Those are the things that are going to keep our public personnel in … the city. Keep our jailers here. Keep them away from commuting to the Bay Area for better pay and everything.”

Channce Condit
Channce Condit

Condit said agencies in the county lose personnel to better paying cities and counties.

“That’s why I’m going to continue doing what I’ve tried to accomplish as a city councilmember, and that’s fight to earmark our cannabis dollars to go to our hiring of public safety officials,” said Condit. He said he was proud of his endorsements given by the Ceres Professional Firefighters Local 3636 and the Ceres Police Officers Association.

Because the Altamont Express Corridor (ACE) train is expected to be extended to Ceres by 2021 and to Merced by 2023, the candidates were asked about their feelings on a train platform planned for Ceres.

Kline said the ACE train station will help create interest in downtown and boost the economy of Ceres. Condit said it benefit Ceres overall and encourage economic development. He even went so far to say the station should be named the Cannella Station. As a Republican, Cannella broke party ranks in April 2017 to cast a vote with Democrats to support a controversial $52 billion hike in gas taxes and vehicle fees – in exchange for a state pledge of $400 million to his pet project of extending ACE to Merced.

Hallinan also thanked Cannella for his vote and said the issue shows how the cities and counties could cooperate more and “less rivals on things.”

“This is an area where they can come together with transportation,” said Hallinan. “It’s probably the most important economic development tool that we’ll have in quite some time.”

All three candidates, when asked, stated they would quit their present jobs to devote full-time effort to the job of supervisor and serve the full four years. All three said DeMartini has well represented the district and remain accessible. Kline noted his council seat expires just as the supervisor’s seat becomes available.

A question asked about how each would deal with policy agreements on the board.

Hallinan said he’s been dealing in local government for 25 years and that he takes pride in his endorsements of three active mayors, three community service district presidents who all believe he would collaborate well. He also stated that he worked with two supervisors on the fair board. Hallinan said he would leave disagreements on the dais.

Kline said he would work well with supervisors one-on-one and meet to talk about disagreements without violating the Brown Act.

Condit said he’ll always try to collaborate but added he’s “not afraid to make a tough decision. I’m not afraid to be the only ‘no’ vote if necessary; or the only ‘aye’ vote if necessary. It’s always important to stand by your convictions and also if you tell somebody you’re going to do something, you’re going to follow through on that.”

When asked about the split roll initiative effort on the March ballot to eliminate commercial properties from the protection of Prop. 13 passed in 1978 to keep property taxes down, candidates were asked their view.

All three voiced opposition to the measure.

When asked what changes are needed to implement his goals, Condit stressed the need for equitable tax sharing and more investment in county islands.

“If you go to South Modesto, if you go down to Crowslanding (Road), our county islands are totally disregarded and District 5 in general has been an afterthought as compared to other areas of the county,” said Condit.

Hallinan said while District 5 has many more needs, he sounded a different tone than Condit, saying the county has invested millions of dollars in infrastructure in the Bret Harte, Parklawn and Shackelford areas and he wants to “make sure the inertia keeps going that direction.” He wants the same energy to go into the Crowslanding Naval Air Station base.

Kline agreed there is a need to continue investing in the underdeveloped areas.

“I think the other thing we need to do is put a little pressure on the District Attorney’s office,” said Kline, “to prosecute some of these low level crimes that the homeless are doing and get away with. They know they can steal for things under $900 and not get prosecuted for it. And the homeless keep on doing it.”

The candidates reflected on the proposal to build a dam in the Del Puerto Canyonto form a 85,000-acre-foot reservoir.

Hallinan said the environmental review process needs to play out but he notes the difficulty in getting water storage built in California.

“Because there are concerns I don’t think we need to automatically say no,” said Hallinan. Any concerns need to be mitigated, he said.

Kline said he didn’t know much about the proposal when he came out against it after hearing concerns in Patterson. But he hinted his mind is open by saying he’s reaching out to the State Water Board to gain understanding.

Condit said environmental concerns are valid and all options should be weighed but noted that California has lacked adequate water storage and would favor local water storage.

All three pledge to give the job a full-time effort as they try to emulate DeMartini’s accessibility.

The topic of housing needs came up.

Condit said the county needs a “smart, strategic quality vote,” noting that on his brief time on the council he voted for one housing project and against another.

“We need rooftops for our folks who work here and also for the businesses that will be brought here,” said Condit. “So we’re having a great economy; we need to take advantage of that economy. I do think it’s irresponsible that we don’t have much growth in this great economy.”

Hallinan replied: “Well the law now says we have to or we’re going to be penalized. I think it should be directed to the cities so we can preserve the Williamson Act for those that want to remain in agriculture. I think that’s vitally important. And we do need the rooftops to have that commercial development.”

Kline said he favors housing growth that is “smart and strategically placed.”

“We don’t need a little hodge-podge of things all over the place where nothing has been thought about.”

Drinking water supply came up with the candidates asked what tools, strategies and funding mechanisms they would use to protect it.

Kline said he would like to see more surface water projects like the one the cities of Ceres and Turlock are planning to build to draw and filter Tuolumne River water.

Condit said the Valley has some of the worst water contaminants in the state and stated the need to invest in water infrastructure. He said surface water projects are the answer but he’s opposed the Ceres project because water rights were not secured before water rate hikes were set in motion.

“We’ve done that project backwards, unfortunately,” said Condit. He added that the county could get Keyes and Denair and other cities to buy in and “hopefully make the rates go down.”

Hallinan said water is an area where cities and counties can better cooperate. Hallinan disagreed with Condit, saying the surface water project is “an excellent, forward-thinking project.”

All three voiced their opposition to the state stealing water from Valley rivers.

Bringing up growing traffic congestion in the county, Cannella posed a question about candidates’ views on expanding mass transit other than busing systems.

Kline noted how Ceres couldn’t operate its public transit system to satisfy the state but called for a countywide transit system to include underserved communities.

Condit said the county is improving the connection between the west and east sides of the county. He called for continued oversight of Measure L funding to ensure roads are being addressed, and supportive of regional transportation.

Hallinan said cities are forced to give up control of their buses.

“We need do things that people want and support otherwise we’re doing feel good stuff that’s not working,” said Hallinan. “We still need the bus system but we need to expand, like Mr. Kline said, a countywide system with economies of scale and they can work.”

He wants to see what can tier off from the ACE train station coming to Modesto and Ceres.

Each candidate was asked what makes them unique over their opponents.

“I’ve made this work my life’s work,” said Hallinan. “I love this county. I grew up here and I came back after I finish school.” He explained how he went to work for his dad’s law office representing small governmental agencies. “I’ve done that for 25 years. I think I’m uniquely qualified to work for the county level. I know the issues. Again, it’s what I do all day long … and I go to two and three nights a week practicing this unique business we do.”

Kline said he is the third generation to graduate from Ceres High School and spent four years on the Ceres Planning Commission and eight years on the Ceres City Council learning about budget process and land use issues.

“I have been very involved in the community, whether it’s youth sports.”

Condit said he would offer a “fresh perspective when it comes to issues.”

“I’m not afraid to be independent. I’m not afraid to ask the tough questions and I’m not afraid to be different. I’m not afraid to have a different opinion on different topics.”

He said also what makes him unique is being endorsed by Ceres police and fire labor groups.

Candidates wrapped up with closing comments.

Condit said he had no intention to run but decided to enter the race after Cannella decided he wouldn’t run.

“I made some calls in the area, I reached out to some folks and I was turned down. After talking about my family and praying about it, I gave it a strong consideration to run for District 5. I do believe District 5 has been disadvantaged as compared to other areas in the county. We need to be put on equal footing. We need to have more equity between our cities and our county and that’s why I am running.”

Hallinan said he also had plans to run but was urged by others to run, citing his experience on the YCCD board, and attorney for cities and districts in District 5.

“I’m very collegial,” he said. “I tend to get along with everybody and I think that’s the main reason I have the support that I have but I’ve been independent too. I was on that Community College board for 20 years and it’s a seven-member board and there were a lot of 6 to one votes and I was always that one vote when it was the right thing.”

Kline said he thought about running nine months ago when DeMartini announced he was stepping down. He was supporting Cannella until he decided to not run.

“What I bring is the experience of being on the Planning Commission for four years,” said Kline. “I bring the experience of being on the City Council for eight years. I’ve worked with my colleagues … we work together and that’s one of the things that I believe I’ll bring to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.”